With a little help you can achieve all the things you want to do says Claire Lister
It’s 5.15pm and you’ve been in a meeting with your line manager and two of the business’s directors since 3pm. You’ve spent weeks preparing for this meeting as there are some key decisions to make in the business. You made your manager aware that you had to pick up the children and had to be away from the office by 5.30pm. The discussions are going on for an age and you can feel your tension beginning to build. The others seem completely oblivious and go off at tangents rather than getting to the point. At 5.15pm you decide you have to flag your impending departure, and ask if it would it be advisable to focus on the key decisions. What a shame, you did some fantastic work for this meeting, much of it in your own time, but now all they’ll remember is that you had to leave early.
It’s now 9.00pm and you’ve just finished the evening shift. It was 7.00pm by the time you picked the children up and got home. Dinner and baths, various homework and preparations for doing this all again tomorrow mean that only now you can take a breather. There are some papers you need to review for work tomorrow. You decide to do these on your laptop in bed. You love your job and you love your family. But sometimes if feels like you have to choose between them. You end up stuck in the middle of all these demands on your time.
I’m not saying that only women face challenges of working and juggling parenthood. I personally wouldn’t have been able to get through the last 17 years if I hadn’t had the support of my partner. But studies regularly show that women continue to do the majority of household chores and childcare. Here’s my gathered wisdom, and things I wish I had the foresight to understand 17 years ago.
Take time for yourself. In between all the demands on your time, it’s easy to put yourself at the back of the list. Eating healthily, going to the gym can all wait until you’ve delivered on your other commitments – right? Take it from me – wrong! Turn it around and the extra care you take of yourself will actually help you achieve all the things you want to do. Picture this: my birthday, a day’s holiday booked, facial and massage organised, children at school and nursery. On my way to the spa I got a call from the nursery to say my little one wasn’t well (nothing life threatening I hasten to add). I actually burst into tears. This shows that I was so far past not listening to this particular advice that it felt like the last straw. I shouldn’t have let it get to this point.
Flexible working arrangements. Think about how flexibility might help you if are returning to work after having children. Examples can be simple such as the ability to take some of your paid leave as carer days, or the ability to buy additional holiday each year. Other ideas which require more commitment from your employer include flexible hours, or options for part time work. They all require honesty and trust between employer and employee – but as someone who has been a working mother and an employer, there are some fantastic skills which your business shouldn’t lose. In my experience being flexible with an employee garners increased loyalty.
Stay in touch and up to date. We all know that most employers will adhere properly to maternity leave rights, but I would encourage all working mothers who are on maternity leave to stay in touch with their employer and their role. You rightly need proper time off, but a couple of hours each month will keep you engaged in your role, and illustrate your commitment to the future.
A positive attitude to working women and working mothers. This is a more subtle issue. It can cover our language and how we subconsciously categorise our colleagues. At the end of the day I suppose the acid test of this is the balance between female and male staff in roles of authority in the business.
Be organised. The more commitments you have, the more you have to plan ahead and be organized – anything to prevent those stress points boiling over. Pack bags and get clothes out the night before.
Know your limitations. You have to be honest with yourself and buy in support where needed. It was impossible for me to take extended holidays when my children were younger to cover summer holidays (which seemed to go on forever) as this was at a time when my career was really moving ahead and there were lots of things I wanted to do. I never had any available support from parents, but luckily we managed to turn a challenge into a really positive experience for the family. Over a 10 year period we had several au pairs of different nationalities come to live with us for varying periods. They were there for the children (but also were a fabulous support for me) and are now family friends.
Know your rights and be realistic but confident of your abilities. Make sure that you know what your rights are legally, and don’t let others make you question your abilities. We all know that when we’re tired and under pressure, the first thing to take a knock is our confidence. If this happens, give yourself a pep talk, and develop a network that will support you when you need it.
If you are interviewing for a role, ask if there are any other working mothers in similar roles, and ask about what the employer does to support working parents. Whatever they say – the best proof is in what they are actually doing. We recently recruited a fantastic new team member with just the right skills for the role we wanted. She has a young child and didn’t want to work full time. She was the best candidate for the role, and so we were flexible and it’s working out for both of us.
Trust your instincts when choosing an employer. In my business we have a family atmosphere. This isn’t because of some comfy lounge chairs in the office and recreational toys for employees – quite the opposite really. We are fortunate enough to be the size of business where we know each other. That includes our children, and we have events where employees are welcome and encouraged to bring their family along. I’ve met various assorted children at different stages of their growing up (we even have employed some on summer work experience), and met elderly parents as well as partners. I hope that this encourages a more positive working environment, and illustrates what we as a business are like and how we treat working mothers. My advice is to choose where you work carefully, and trust your instincts – is this the kind of place where you want to work? Do you feel there is a positive attitude to parents of younger children?
My experiences here hopefully illustrate that it is impossible to be the perfect mother and go getting employee all at the same time without some degree of modification – there just aren’t enough hours in the week (and yes, I did once prepare a spreadsheet to try to figure out where I could gain extra time!). However, if you are realistic with yourself, and most importantly have the genuine support from colleagues and friends around you as well as your employer, it is possible to have it all.